A compromise for D.C. representation in Congress


By TOM CAMPBELL | Orange County RegisterPUBLISHED: May 11, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. | UPDATED: May 11, 2021 at 12:39 p.m.

Since Democrats outnumber Republicans 12 to 1 in the District of Columbia, statehood would likely add two Democratic senators and one voting Democratic House member to Congress. It is hard, in today’s hyper-politicized environment, to separate the issue of D.C. statehood from that reality. However, if we suspend partisan thinking, we can perceive different facets of fairness in this question.

States’ representation in the United States Senate is grossly disproportionate. Two U.S. senators represent 39.5 million Californians. Two U.S senators would represent 693,000 residents of the District of Columbia. The chances of an individual citizen actually knowing or getting a communication heard by her or his senator would be 57 times better in D.C.  than in California.

California has 12% of our nation’s population but 2% of the U.S. Senate. If D.C. becomes a state, California would drop to 1.9% of the U.S. Senate. With only 0.18% of the nation’s population, D.C. would have more than 10 times its fair share in the Senate, if measured by population.  California would drop below its already paltry level of one-sixth its fair share.

Starting in 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down such underrepresentation in state legislatures. States argued that by tradition, the upper house of their legislatures were based on area, or communities of interest, or historical patterns, all of which should be respected in allocating state senate seats.

The Supreme Court rejected all those arguments, establishing that the Constitution required “one person, one vote.” That has been the guiding principle of reapportionment in state legislatures for 60 years. Were the court free to apply this principle to the U.S. Senate, California would have 12 senators today. While the court can override the traditional state defenses for disproportionate state legislative districts, it cannot override the explicit provision of two senators per state in Congress.

Indeed, America itself cannot override that: Article V specifies how the Constitution can be amended, and it forbids changing the allocation of two senators per state. Untouchable, but unfair, the allotment of senators continues to give huge advantage to small states over larger ones. No state is more unfairly treated than California.

Californians might argue that, at least, we shouldn’t make this disproportionality any worse. On issues of importance to California, California speaks with the greatest weight of any state in the House of Representatives; but in the U.S. Senate, our voice is weak, no matter how eloquent our individual senators might be.

Fairness to the District of Columbia, however, is also entitled to respect. D.C. residents have no vote in Congress today.  D.C. license plates carry the motto: “End Taxation Without Representation,” invoking one of America’s revolutionary demands. Statehood is one solution. Another would be to mimic history.

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